By: Sarah Perry
Format/Source: Paperback; my purchase
For centuries, the mysterious dark-robed figure has roamed the globe, searching for those whose complicity and cowardice have fed into the rapids of history’s darkest waters—and now, in Sarah Perry’s breathtaking follow-up to The Essex Serpent, it is heading in our direction.
It has been years since Helen Franklin left England. In Prague, working as a translator, she has found a home of sorts—or, at least, refuge. That changes when her friend Karel discovers a mysterious letter in the library, a strange confession and a curious warning that speaks of Melmoth the Witness, a dark legend found in obscure fairy tales and antique village lore. As such superstition has it, Melmoth travels through the ages, dooming those she persuades to join her to a damnation of timeless, itinerant solitude. To Helen it all seems the stuff of unenlightened fantasy.
But, unaware, as she wanders the cobblestone streets Helen is being watched. And then Karel disappears. . . .
I’ve seen Sarah Perry’s books around for the last few years but just never got around to picking them up. I ended up picking up this title because it was recommended in a list of recommendations on some website…I was in the mood for something Gothic, as well as a story about friendships, and look! it’s set in Prague, so I ended up picking up this book. Plus, look how gorgeous the book cover is! 😀
I wasn’t familiar with the story of the Melmoth so that was really interesting, pretty eerie. Reading her appear in these different accounts but the same message coming across, the same lure, preying on one’s wrongdoing and despair…It’s eerie. Definitely the stuff of a Gothic horror. She always looms at the periphery, at the background, as we follow the different characters and their stories.
The set-up of this book was rather curious, these little vignettes of stories from different time periods, the back and forth between past tense and present tense and post-modernism narrative (which can be a bit unnerving to be honest…the use of present tense continues to throw me off overall for some reason). Some stories intrigued me more than others, like Josef Hoffman’s, as was one of the storylines set in Manila, Philippines. But perhaps I wasn’t as engrossed with the book as a whole because the book felt fragmented with the different vignette stories, as well as the main character Helen. I was also interested in her storyline as a whole–Prague, uncovering the story of Melmoth, the people in her life–but Helen as a character was very hard to engage and be empathetic towards in her flight because she was so cold and closed-off. Which is what her character is, as other characters called her out on it, but as a result too I really didn’t care for her and her own internal struggles; her inner story just didn’t connect.
Despite of this lack of connection, I did like the book enough and the story. I like that it was set in Prague too, adds some mystery to the landscape of the story (and fuelling my excitement of eventually going there some point in the near future).
(As an aside, to that list that first recommended this book for stories about friendships…This book partly fits the bill. Because the story segways after Karel disappears. But I guess it’s about the friendship of Helen and Thea? Bit of a stretch considering how closed off Helen is overall as a character)